Perhaps the quickest and most efficient way to achieve end-to-end operability of networked devices in the home is to open the development of middleware to as many participants as possible. That's the aim of a research project, called Amigo, which is being sponsored by the European Union (E.U.).

"By taking an open source approach, we believe we can speed up the development of interoperable middleware to run home networks using devices from multiple vendors," said Harmke de Groot, a researcher at Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV, speaking earlier this week in Berlin at the e/home conference and exhibition, which ended Friday. "We aim to use as many of the existing standards and specifications as possible."

By giving out the middleware as open source, together with architectural rules and documentation, the group believes it can support interoperability of devices currently locked into either partly connected or totally unconnected domains, such as consumer electronics, computers, mobile communications, home automation and security, according to De Groot.

In addition to open source middleware, the Amigo project hopes to develop "open and intelligent services that go beyond what many manufacturers envision today," De Groot said. "We need to think outside the box."

In this context, De Groot talked about the role of "ambient intelligence." Ambient intelligence, according to a link published on De Groot's Amigo Web page(, is characterized by four basic elements: ubiquity, awareness, intelligence and natural interaction.

Ubiquity refers to a situation in which people are surrounded by multiple interconnected embedded systems, which are invisible in their environment. Awareness means the ability of the system to locate and recognize objects and people and their intentions, while intelligence involves a digital surrounding being able to analyze the context, adapt itself to the people who live in it and learn from their behavior. Natural interaction, finally, relates to advanced modalities such as natural speech and gesture recognition, as well as speech synthesis, which could enable a much more human-like communication in a digital environment than is possible today.

A total 15 companies are participating in the Amigo project, including the telecommunication companies France Télécom SA and Telefónica SA, the German subsidiary of Microsoft Corp. and the Institute for Natural Language Processing at the University of Stuttgart.